The Haya Epiphany: Making (pan) Mongol into “World” Sound

Vocal crossings over the Steppe and Desert

It is almost a no-brainer: when and where different borderland musical dialects from China’s (and Kazakhstan’s) rimlands intersect and co-breed, there is bound to be a Mongol(ic) or Tibetan harmonic presence. Both song (balladsong) traditions engage a drone in the lower register; both carry the salient melody line slowly up to a peak, established by a cresting natural warbling or vibrato (related to falsetto); and both take the sound back down to the drone-note(s) with intensity slowly giving way to a kind of glottal sedation – the excitement of the hi-range keening falls away to bring natural harmonics (open 4th and 5ths) back out into the foreground.

The only important differences are in augmentation: Mongol song often (but not always) uses back-throat natural oversinging (it sounds like Jews Harp strum because that’s what it is), while Tibetan does not; and Mongol balladeers rely always a good deal on instrumental (poly-i) support – on the natural overharmonics of the norinhuur, the famed 2-string “horsehead fiddle”, an instrument uniquely able to perform drone AND instrumental warble between natural pitches at the same time.

So: there is a lot more than Buddhism in common, though that turns out to be important too.

Where these two cognate traditions part company with those of their other neighbors is in the degree to which rhythm in and of itself is foregrounded as a special or “3rd” line in the spooling out of the musical flow. A Kazakh-Moslem influence beyond a doubt. The whole range of percussion dialogue so elegantly worked into Hindu-Kazakh-Uighur (hereafter HKU) performance (the Maqam being of course the supreme embellishment of rhythm as a colinear of harmony and melody) is more than a happenstance or accident. Nothing like this happens in the steppe-herder musicking of the Tibetan plateaux or Mongol prairies. (TM). (The use of tiny cymbals – damaru- etc in Tibetan prayer-chant does not justify the label of rhythm building, since nothing or no one responds to changes in their velocity).

The physical and functional reason for the strength and ingenuity of Pulse in the HKU culture-strip and its omission in the MT order of things has of course to do with the development or suppression of both the feminine and the terpsichoric. Female hip- arm, and finger-dance, whether of shamanic or court-display origin (the two are often entangled) is an essential part of the history of Kazakh-Muslim performance, and seems to have been so at least as far back as Moghul times and the correlative (affinal) Persian court culture that it shared (generated) . Rajas and (Muslim/Persian Moghul) khans were devotees of court spectacle and relied on its elaboration to establish diplomatic hierarchy and work the rituals of hospitality. (Ditto of course for the Theravadan spin off of East Hindu court performances in SE Asia).

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